Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tory Reshuffle: Do It Quickly Or Not At All

Reshuffle speculation is now getting out of control and threatens to do damage to the Conservatives. Either David Cameron should conduct a reshuffle as soon as Parliament returns on Monday or he should announce that there won't be one. The demonisation of Alan Duncan over the past few days in various parts of the press (but principally the Daily Telegraph) has been unedifying to say the least.

But on the basis that everyone else has had their say, I'll have mine. This whole reshuffle is now going to be conducted through the prism of a possible return for Ken Clarke. I hope David Cameron has his ducks lined up on that one, because if Clarke doesn't come back, the whole thing will be written off as a damp squib. The ConservativeHome line that he cannot be trusted on Europe may reflect a wide section of party opinion but it's a side issue. I have no truck with Clarke's views on Europe, but for any Conservative to believe that should be a bar to him holding office again is just plain wrong. [UPDATE: ConHome have asked me to point out that it wasn't just Clarke's views on Europe - it was welfare too]. Ken Clarke is one of the few Tory politicians who has any kind of mass appeal. He can reach outside the Conservative Party in a way others can't. And for that reason alone he is an electoral asset. It makes sense for him to take over the business brief - but it would be a mistake to drop Alan Duncan.

On his day, Alan Duncan is one of the best media performers the Tory Party has. He's also got a shed load of experience, and those who are indulging in poisonous anonymous briefings arguing through the media for him to be dropped need their heads read. I've just been horrified to read THIS post on ConservativeHome. Here's an extract...
Alan Duncan is receiving quite a bit of friendly fire at the moment. An unnamed Tory MP tells today's Telegraph: "Just imagine the shadow business secretary is away skiing when we are going across the country to talk to people hurt by recession. And that, for a would be Business Secretary, at a time of massive economic and business upheaval. Contrast that with Peter Mandelson who has been everywhere since his return." But most of the briefing is coming from within CCHQ. I got one such briefing myself yesterday. Yesterday's Sun had an anti-Duncan quote from a "senior party official". All very unhelpful and purportedly rooted in the extent of Mr Duncan's outside interests.

YeGods. Have they learnt nothing from the last 15 years? Whoever has been doing this briefing needs to be identified, tasered and then strung up from Vauxhall Bridge for a public flogging. Strangely, I didn't get such a briefing - no doubt on the basis that the gay boys stick together. I hold no brief for Alan Duncan. Indeed, after his betrayal of David Davis in the leadership contest you might well think I had cause to welcome attacks on him. But I don't. I think he is a talented individual who, on his day, is one of the party's best communicators. If it were up to me I would offer him Transport. It may not appear to be one of the top jobs, but it's going to be a huge issue over the next few years and the post needs someone with some business background to repair the damage done over the past few months over airports policy in particular.

The other big talking point is a possible return for David Davis. I'll plead the fifth amendment on that one as previous experience tells me that anything I say is bound to be taken out of context.

I would also like to see David Trimble brought into the Shadow Cabinet, possibly replacing Owen Paterson, who is tipped for a promotion following his very successful eighteen months in the job. However, Trimble may decide that he doesn't want to be 'typecast'.

There is also speculation that in the Telegraph today that anyone who didn't attend the Shadow Cabinet northern tour this week will be for the chop. Andrew Pierce fingers David Willetts and Peter Ainsworth in particular. I'd be sorry to see Willetts go, but I agree that Ainsworth has not made enough impact in the media on the Environment brief. I would replace him with Jeremy Hunt, who would work well with Greg Clark. This would then free up Ed Vaizey to step up from his current position as number two at Culture.

An alternative would be for Caroline Spelman to take over the Culture brief. The chairman's job is tipped to go to either Eric Pickles, Chris Grayling or Jeremy Hunt. In the run-up to an election the role of chairman is to organise the campaign but also to act as a bit of an attack dog, so Pickles and Grayling would be obvious candidates. My instinct is that it will go to Grayling.

As to new entrants, I would like to see Michael Fallon brought in as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I'm not saying Philip Hammond has done a bad job, but I think Fallon's forensic knowledge of public spending would be an asset, especially now that some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made.

I don't see the scope for many other big moves. If DD came back that would trigger some interesting shuffling, but assuming he doesn't, I expect Gove, Grieve, Herbert, Lansley, Clark, May, Osborne, Mitchell, Fox and Hague all to stay put.

But above all, this reshuffle needs to be got out of the way so people can get on with their jobs and plan the Conservative strategy over the next six months.


Dungeekin said...

Would Caroline Spelman be a sensible call?

I mean, she's got her childcare arrangements to consider....


Jimmy said...

Did she ever finish her report on expense fiddling by MEPs?

no longer anonymous said...

Duncan put up a shocking performance on Question Time a while back. Sounded like a leftie at one point.

Harriet Harman made a tit out of him when she provided a quote proving the Tories had had plans to deregulate the mortgage market despite Duncan denying this.

Falco said...

"The ConservativeHome line that he (Clarke) cannot be trusted on Europe is so regressive as to be laughable"

The problem is that he can be trusted absolutely. I have more respect for him than many EUrophiles because at least he is honest about it. That doesn't mean I would like to see him in any position to sell us down the river.

Jimmy said...

Is there a shred of evidence to suggest he's remotely interested?

Tom Hagen said...

Chris Grayling is a valuable asset. He has done a great job in leading his role shadowing the DWP. A great party performer who appeals to the grassroots. He needs to be moved up to higher places. The role of chair would demote him to have less publicity. This would be bad as he has a great rapport with the public.

hmsenterprise said...

I suggested Hunt for Environment on my blog only yesterday:

Agree with you fully on Alan Duncan, Iain. He's been picked on.

Darrell G said...

I think Iain is bang on the money about Clarke to be never know if Cameron does actually bite the bullet it could even be his 'Clause IV' moment..if however he is continually excluded on ideological grounds then what message does that send to the voters??

Loki said...

Trimble? What is it with you and Trimble? He appears slightly unhinged most of the time. Do you really think a former FM of NI shadowing the NI brief would go down terribly well? Never mind if he actually had the job proper. Given Trimble's popularity (sic) in NI, I'd venture that the following rearranged would sum it up: it'd, down, squib, like, damp, a, go!

eventsdearboyevents said...

Loki - after the recent Tory-UUP deal Trimble is an ideal candidate to join the frontbench - in opposition or government. Although I'll agree with you that getting the NI post will be a little... underwhelming.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

You have ducked the David Davis issue and that's just not fair. You have a hotline to DD and you should tell all.

As for Alan Duncan, I like him, and generally I don't like poofs. I like him because he is open and honest about who he is and has experience outwith the Westminster Village. He is rich enough not to give a toss and concerned enough to be involved. He has a sense of humour.

He is also a bit dangerous. The sad thing is, Dave is not. He is the Boden catalogue personified: safe and navy blue. I don't see Ken Clarke returning anytime soon for more or less the same reasons that Alan Duncan will be dropped.

Play safe Tories..

and lose the election that is there for the taking.

neil craig said...

I agree with you on Clarke. I don't think anybody doubts you disagree with him on the EU Iain. Nonetheless he has a record on the economy nobody else matches. Cameron's failure to show Brown's enthusiasm for doing economic stuff while polishing up the Tory brand is a serious failure. It is the only thing that could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Personally I think Redwood is even better as an economist than Clarke but he does not have the charisma of Ken, which now is the point. I would suggest Redwood as Minister for Cutting Things - a difficult, vital & unpopular position he did well in Wales, saving enough to be able to return £100 million to the Exchequer. The 2 of them obviously get on & Redwood would reassure anybody worried about the EU factor.

Cato said...

Nobody would argue that Clarke would not be an extremely able Chancellor.

But,and here's the big but, appointing him would show that the Conservatives are pro-EC and that, whether you like it or not Iain, would lose the party a whole lot of votes.
It would certainly make me wonder where my vote should be cast and I've been Tory all my life.
Clarke is the kiss of death.

RobertEve said...

Neil Craig - I really like the idea of a Minister for Cutting Things. We've needed this post for as long as I can remember.

John Redwood is fine by me.

breakerg said...

Hmm, Spelman still has a taint of sleaze about her in the public's mind. I don't know if this is deserved or not, but the dirt has been thrown and the mud has stuck.

Cameron really needs to hammer the corruption aspect of Labour over and over in the run up to the election, and to do that his Cabinet must be squeaky clean.

John Moss said...

The only way Clarke can be useful is as a foil to Mandelson and that means a peerage.

I'd love to see Rushcliffe come up as a vacancy, but there is so much baggage with Clarke from his years in the Thatcher and Major Governments (in health and policing, where he was especially unpopular) that I really cannot see the sense in bringing him back in and allowing Labour to trot out "Same Old Tories" lines. Ditto Redwood.

Hague is fine as he was only just Welsh Secretary and has succesfully created his own persona which is not based on his time in Government.

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Dick the Prick said...

I don't think anyone gives a monkeys about Spellman - largely under the radar. Clarke would be brilliant and people all over Blighty can trust him as a safe pair.

It would fantastically rattle Gordon and Mr Cooper. Whilst the EU is an issue I don't think the debate has to be had within the Tories - hopefully, for one bleedin' time, the country will be given a choice.

"Sorry Nurse what, you gave me the wrong pills....."

Mr Mr said...

Parliament returns on Monday

When the rest of the workforce went back a week ago.

Tachybaptus said...

'Do it quickly or not at all.'

Is this a deliberate echo of Lady Macbeth? It didn't turn out too well for her, if I recall.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

As a leftie, [pace "no longer anonymous" @ 4:28 PM] I find Alan Duncan small, but perfectly formed, and remarkably sensible for a Tory. Oh dear: that's done for him. On the other hand, he spouts the aperçus that were the norm for Cameron, Mk I. Pity nobody told him to keep up with the script-changes.

Little brother even canvassed Ken Clarke once (for the L*b**r P*rt*), and was treated as a rational, human being. Ooops! Another one well crapped-on!

Now, if only I can somehow undermine Gove. The trouble there is, apart from having to fill a Monday column, he's quite sane. Whoa! Another one demolished.

But Trimble! Come on! My first encounter with his ... err ... rhetoric was at the opening of an Orange Hall in the County Armagh. And very fetching he looked in his Sash.

Newmania said...

Does Clarke really hold the same views on Europe as he used to ? It can be hard to admit you are wrong and so much has changed since it was a legitimate business interest issue .I wonder... I like him

On his day, Alan Duncan is one of the best media performers the Tory Party has.

His day must be the 29th of Feb then because he has absolutely bloody awful whenever I have seen him . He comes over as ineffectual and I have despaired at his invertebrate inability to put the Conservative case.

Chris Paul said...

Perhaps we need to put David Trimble and Caroline Spelman in the same bag as Iain's other pantomime folk: Nadine Dorries and Lynne Featherstone.

Glad to see it's a case of "do as I say, not as I do".

Alan Duncan is a clown. Manic. Bad-tempered. Maniacal. Cup-tied with his own wheeler dealery. Let's hope Cameron pays no attention to those explaining that he is a liability. Slithering downhill like greased lightning.

Roger Thornhill said...

If it were up to me I would offer him Transport

Don't you mean Transportation?

Timothy Barnes said...

It seems to me that we have another set of possible entrants with really strong qualities but not enough jobs to accommodate the talent. That may be a nice problem to have, but it is a problem, all the same.

Trimble is a real asset. He is a deep political thinker who has watched proceedings as a party leader for many years and would have been a Tory long ago if not for the strange nature of our representation there. The NI job would clearly be daft, be would have something to offer in many other roles. Not many parties can claim a Nobel Laureate in their ranks. We should make the most of ours.

Davis should also be allowed to come back. He made a hash of how he resigned, but the grass roots largely supported his message. He has a glint in his eye that gets him in front of the cameras unlike many of his colleagues and he has some positive credentials that are also balancing. Another asset wasted in the wilderness.

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